LANSING, Mich. – Erica Hammel of Macomb County knew something was not right with the person her ex-husband had watch her 1-year-old son, but says that in 2013 inaccessible public records failed to prevent her from knowing that the person had been charged twice with child abuse.
After her son Wyatt nearly lost his life to child abuse, Hammel started campaigning for a child abuse registry. It's been years of effort, but on Thursday the Michigan Senate passed legislation to create the registry. If it passes the House in the lame duck session, it will be called Wyatt's Law.
Hammel said she tried to investigate the background of the abuser, who had previous convictions of child abuse. But without knowing the county where an offense took place, the person's full name and birth date, it was impossible to access the already public information.
“If I had had those pieces of information, I would have been able to save Wyatt. That's what I was searching for and I had nothing,” Hammel said.
Wyatt is now 8 years old, but suffered traumatic brain and eye injuries that have required several surgeries and extensive therapy.
"He just literally had the will to live," Hammel said.
The proposal would require the Michigan State Police to compile a computerized database of individuals convicted of child abuse offenses in the state, including their name and date of birth, which are often needed to find court records. It would be a public website where those convicted of child abuse after Jan. 1, 2020, would be required to register for 5 to 10 years.
This is the third time the measure has been introduced in the Legislature and Hammel hopes that this is the year it passes. But she said she's ready to fight for it in the next legislative session alongside Christine Kadlitz, whose son also was abused by Wyatt's abuser.
Bill sponsor Sen. Curtis Hertel spoke on the Senate floor Thursday, praising Hammel and Kadlitz, who were seated in the gallery, for their tenacity in fighting for other families.
“This attack could absolutely have been prevented," the Lansing Democrat said. “This is information that is public knowledge, it is publicly available knowledge, we just make it harder for people to get it. All we’re trying to do is to make this information easy for parents.”
Hammel is not alone in campaigning for a child abuse registry. In 2017, Indiana’s child abuse registry went online under Kirk’s Law after the death of 19-month-old Kirk Coleman.
Ohio is looking at a similar system under Jacob’s Law for 2-year-old Jacob Barker, who died in the care of someone previously convicted of child abuse.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey echoed Hertel's support for the legislation, and appreciation for Hammel and Kadlitz, using their stories as a catalyst for change.
“There is no force greater no force more formidable on this Earth than that of a mother acting in defense of her child,” the Republican said.